Much like many thousands of tourists, I take my flock and head toward the neon lights of Branson, Missouri every summer. Although we do visit some of the typical sights such as the fire show at The Landing, and of course the go cart tracks, it is a vastly different rainbow of colors I seek.
Amazingly one of the best kept secrets in Branson, isn’t where to get 1/2 price tickets to The Titanic, or even which is the best buffet. No Sir, in my opinion the best entertainment in Branson is swimming in the chilly fifty degree waters of Lake Taneycomo!
Less than a mile from the strip and just feet away from The Landing, is a riverine type lake that is teaming with both Rainbow and Brown Trout. Heck, one of the largest fish hatcheries in the United States sits right on the banks of Taneycomo. It is here that one million Trout are raised and annually released into these waters. The odds of catching Trout in Taneycomo greatly exceed the odds of getting front row seats at the Dixie Stampede!
Take your pick of methods to catch them… Whether you prefer to fly fish, cast artificial lures, or go old school and drift live bait, anglers can “pick their poison” and have a reasonable chance of landing Trout.
Nearly all of the veteran anglers and guides in the area will agree that the key to consistently catching numbers of fish at Taneycomo is to fish when there is current. This lake is actually just a river that happens to be dammed at both ends. At the head waters lies Table Rock Lake Dam which releases its deep, cold water creating the current that Trout thrive in. At the far end lays Powersite Dam, which the excess water flows over into Bull Shoals Lake. Normally at some time, every day there is some amount of water released to generate electricity at the base of Table Rock Dam.
Current stimulates the feeding pattern of the local Trout and other fish, who prey on the bugs, or baitfish that travel downstream via the current highway. Water levels upstream and electrical power needs dictate the amount of water released thus the amount of current.
What’s more, the first three miles downstream from the headwaters are a special restrictive fishery known as The Trophy Waters. Here it is only legal to fish with artificial lures such as flies and hard lures. No soft plastics or bait are allowed and there is a size restriction on fish that can be kept as well.
Quite often the Trophy Waters can offer some of the best angling oppurtunites. During low water periods dozens of fly fishermen can be seen wading the gravel bars, roll casting their tiny nymphs or dry flies for wary fish. Otherwise, once the current picks up and the water depth increases boats become present and anglers begin plying various tricks to tempt a Trout or two into the net.
One of my favorite methods involves casting a plastic or wooden jerkbait and retrieving it in an erratic fashion. Quite often I am able to entice a reaction strike from innocent fish. Rarely do I go more than a cast or two without a ”follow”. Fishing the crystal clear waters can be both appealing to anglers who like to visually see their quarry take the bait, or annoying when one sees how many fish turn their heads un-impressed at the offering!
One other distinct way of boating some quality fish is to cast a finesse jig and hop it back to the boat. This method can be feast or famine, yet I witnessed it work on both keeper size Trout as well as wall hangers!
I recently met one such angler, Todd Turner, from Shawnee, Kansas who has mastered the jig technique. Todd casts a hand tied marabou jig in weights of 3/32 or so switching to heavier jigs when the current picks up steam. He utilizes very light line, typically two pound fluorocarbon line which allows him to feel the jig bouncing on the bottom much better than heavy line. Additionally, lighter line translates into more strikes in these gin clear waters, since Trout have such great vision. Todd makes long casts hoping the jig up from the bottom in erratic fashion. Most strikes occur as it falls.
On any given day, the Trout may prefer one color jig over another. Thus he keeps a variety of colors such as white or brown hues handy as well as different weight jigs. “It does seem that the longer the feather body, the bigger the fish I catch,” quipped Turner. Yet that can also result in fewer fish caught, thus if an angler is merely looking for keeper size Trout, Todd advises pinching off some excess body hair. I can personally attest that these tiny offerings will pay huge dividends. Recently I was witnessed Todd boat a monster Rainbow that tipped the scales at just under eight pounds!
Like Todd Turner, I prefer a long rod for two reasons. First the longer rod allows a longer cast especially when tossing such light weight offerings. Secondly the longer rod helps when battling strong fish on micro size line like two to four pound test. The long rod creates a rubber band effect helping to wear out the Trout. Another side benefit is increased sensitivity also with a long rod. Fenwick offers some exceptional rods in their River Runner or Smallmouth series that are very well suited to these techniques. I prefer my trusted Pflueger spinning reel paired with a long rod and a four pound fluorocarbon line for jerkbaits.
Be sure to cast upstream or across current when the water is really flowing. This presents the lure in a more natural way and helps reduce snags also. The Trout are facing upstream and generally will expect their meals to come down with the flow.
Whether you choose to cast jigs, jerkbaits, or other lures like small spinners, crankbaits, or spoons be aware there are numerous trophy fish in these waters! I have boated beautiful chocolate colored Smallmouth Bass, White Bass, golden Walleye, Ozark Suckers, Largemouth Bass, as well as the common Rainbow and not so common Brown Trout.
Anglers who seek a more traditional approach may prefer to fish with live bait which is legal anywhere below Fall Creek. Top baits include night crawlers, corn, Berkley Power Bait and a handful of other items. Light line is still recommended and I prefer an octopus style hook which reduces the chances of fish swallowing the live bait and becoming mortally wounded. Generally keeping the bait along the bottom is the preferred method and drifting along with the current is a great method to keep kids or novice anglers entertained.
When fishing live bait, its a good idea to quit fishing or switch to artificial lures after a limit is caught. The odds are high that any Trout caught will suck the live bait down their gullet and even though they may swim away if released they often die later. Trout are strong fighters and with the advantage of the current they can be quite a handful on light tackle but it can also wear them out and cause delayed death. Fish that will not be kept for eating should be left in the water, and unhooked there whenever possible.
Although summer is often the preferred time to visit Branson and thus fish, it is not the only time that offers good Trout fishing. In fact, winter can present some of the optimum days for lunkers. The water temperatures will be steady in the mid forties thus the fish will still be quite active yet there are few fishermen to compete with. The lake waters remain the same only the outside air temperatures change. Pile on some additional clothing and try casting a jig along the deeper stretches of banks.
It seems that anyone can find something to do in Branson. Should catching aggressive, hard fighting Trout be your thing, then employ some of the techniques discussed above. Just be sure to bring along a camera, as one can never predict when that trophy Rainbow or Brown is likely to bite!